Saraswati: The Vedic Goddess of Knowledge and Arts

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Saraswati: The Vedic Goddess of Knowledge and ArtsSaraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and nature, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants directed to her, called the 'Saraswati Vandana' often begin and end Vedic lessons.

Saraswati is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom, and learning. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. In visual representations, she has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus, the symbol of true knowledge, in the opposite hand.

The Symbolism of Saraswati

With her other two hands, Saraswati plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is dressed in white—the symbol of purity—and rides on a white swan, symbolizing Sattwa Guna (purity and discrimination). Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography—the consort of Manjushri.

Learned and the erudite individuals attach great importance to the worship of goddess Saraswati as a representation of knowledge and wisdom. They believe that only Saraswati can grant them moksha—the final liberation of the soul.

Vasant Panchami

Saraswati's birthday, Vasant Panchami, is a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. Hindus celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm in temples, homes and educational institutes alike. Pre-school children are given their first lesson in reading and writing on this day. All Hindu educational institutions conduct special prayer for Saraswati on this day.

Saraswati Mantra

The following popular pranam mantra, or Sanskrit prayer, is uttered by utmost devotion by Saraswati devotees as they eulogize the goddess of knowledge and arts:

Om Saraswati Mahabhagey, Vidye Kamala Lochaney |
Viswarupey Vishalakshmi, Vidyam Dehi Namohastutey ||
Jaya Jaya Devi, Charachara Sharey, Kuchayuga Shobhita, Mukta Haarey |
Vina Ranjita, Pustaka Hastey, Bhagavati Bharati Devi Namohastutey ||

The beautiful human form of Saraswati comes to the fore in this English translation of the Saraswati hymn:

"May Goddess Saraswati,
who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon,
and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops;
who is adorned in radiant white attire,
on whose beautiful arm rests the veena,
and whose throne is a white lotus;
who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me.
May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance."

What is the "Curse of Saraswati"?

When education and artistic skill becomes too extensive, it can lead to great success, which is equated with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and beauty.

As mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik notes:

"With success comes Lakshmi: fame and fortune. Then the artiste turns into a performer, performing for more fame and fortune and so forgets Saraswati, goddess of knowledge. Thus Lakshmi overshadows Saraswati. Saraswati is reduced to Vidya-lakshmi, who turns knowledge into vocation, a tool for fame and fortune."

The Curse of Saraswati, then, is the tendency of the human ego to drift away from the purity of the original devotion to education and wisdom, and toward the worship of success and wealth.

Saraswati, the Ancient Indian River

Saraswati is also the name of a major river of ancient India. The Har-ki-dun glacier flowing from the Himalayas produced the Saraswati's tributaries, Shatadru (Sutlej) from Mount Kailas, Drishadvati from Siwalik Hills and the Yamuna. The Saraswati then flowed into the Arabian Sea at the Great Rann delta.

By about 1500 B.C. the Saraswati River had dried up in places, and by the late Vedic Period, the Saraswati ceased to flow entirely.

By Subhamoy Das